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Classic Roommate Clashes
Students share tips on how to get along, when to move along, and how to improve your living situation.
By Laurin Wolf, senior, Johns Hopkins University
Living with a roommate can be simultaneously one of the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of college life. While some pairs hit it off instantly, others require more time and effort to develop a style of living that works for both parties. You don’t have to be best friends with a roommate—as long as you have a mutual respect and a desire to get along, everything often works out great.
According to a recent Student Health 101 survey of 560 college students, 40% said they had lived with a roommate with whom they got along; 43% said they had more than one roommate they clicked with; and only 17% said they never found a good match. The survey also revealed that 77% of respondents said they had become good friends with a roommate.
Still, conflicts are bound to occur from time to time. And if you find yourself cohabitating with a person who has tendencies that completely oppose your own, it’s good to be prepared with some knowledge on the potential problems that might pop up.
Here are profiles of some of the most common types of roommates with difficult habits and tips on how to live with them.
The Night Owl
While most college students can recall at least one instance in which they pulled an all-nighter to finish a paper or study for an exam, some maintain this awake-till-dawn sleep schedule on a regular basis. For a less nocturnal roommate, consistently disrupted sleep can mean irritability and even diminished performance in the classroom or on the athletic field.
“My roommate would stay up late when I would have early morning classes,” says Laura Hanson, a graduate student at Oklahoma City University.
It turned out that her roommate simply didn’t recognize the situation. “After talking about it, I found out this person was unaware of how loud she had been and how it had kept me up late at night.” An honest talk changed her roommate’s habits, and Hanson got her needed rest. Sometimes earplugs and eye masks can help one roommate sleep while the other stays up, or the late-night studier can help an early sleeper by studying away from the room.
The Party Animal
An outgoing roommate can be a positive thing, but extreme social butterflies can bring a “host” of problems. In addition to higher noise levels and more mess, constant visitors mean less control over who—and what—is coming and going from your room.
“We were frequently missing items from the room,” says Greg Boidy, a senior at Western Illinois University: Macomb Campus. “We agreed to pay much more attention to our guests to reduce thefts.”
If you have a roommate who likes to whoop it up with friends, agree on a schedule that works for both of you and set a cut-off time for visitors.
Living with a slob can range from annoying to downright gross. While some slovenly habits are universally unacceptable (allowing food to rot, for example), it’s important to remember that everyone has a different definition of “clean.”
Timothy Campbell, a junior at Binghamton University in New York, worked out a deal with his messy roomie. “We agreed to keep his trash on his side of the room, and nothing could smell bad,” he says.
Discussing how often to clean can head off problems and prevent conditions from becoming downright unhealthy. For tips on keeping a clean room, CLICK HERE.
“My roommate felt neglected because I spent the majority of the time outside of the room,” says Danielle Devore, a senior at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A needy roommate might demand a lot of emotional support, or he or she might make you feel guilty for branching out. Danielle and her roommate found a way to compromise: “Her feelings were hurt, but she let me know how she felt, and we set aside time for us to spend together.”
Of course, you don’t have to spend much time together at all to have a comfortable living situation. Sometimes roommates are simply great roommates but will not be good friends. Communicating expectations will always help.
When your roommate has a serious significant other, it can seem like having a third roomie you didn’t sign up for. This is especially true when they want to have “alone time.” Being exiled on a regular basis can lead to feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome in your own space. Plus, a lack of privacy can lead to some pretty awkward encounters.
Larry Patterson, a junior at Binghamton University, and his roommate solved the problem by implementing a visiting hours plan.
“We needed to find a way to have our girlfriends over without the other being around, so we developed a schedule to each have the room to ourselves,” he says. Addressing the issue early on can help students prevent problems from coming up later.
How to Deal
While it requires some patience and extra effort, it is possible to co-exist peacefully with one of these roommate types. The key is usually communication. Problems that go unaddressed can turn into emotional arguments and draw attention away from the root of the problem. For instance, “I’d like you to stop leaving dirty dishes in the sink” can easily turn into “You’re such a slob! Didn’t your mother teach you anything?”
Another option is to ask your resident advisor, or R.A., for help when negotiating with a challenging roommate. “It’s what we’re here for!” says Sarah C.* “You can set up a one-on-one meeting, or your R.A. can act as a mediator while you and your roommate discuss ways to solve the issue. They can also suggest some solutions.”
Learning to live with a new person is a process, and one that will undoubtedly present a challenge or two along the way. But there’s no need to panic—many roommate pairings end up working out well despite differences.
Dani Nemzer, a senior at Johns Hopkins University, includes herself in that category, but she wouldn’t have predicted it at the start. “Both my roommate and I thought our freshman-year living situation would fail. I’m a preppy Los Angeles native with a love for the beach and pop music, and she was a cool New Yorker with a passion for art and vintage fashion,” she says. “We never thought we’d be close friends, but despite our apparent differences, she and I bonded over our mutual love of travel, dance parties, and trying new foods.”
Her advice for students feeling anxious about a new roommate? “Don’t judge your future roommate by their Facebook page—they could end up being your best friend!”
*Name has been changed for privacy.
LAURIN WOLF IS A SENIOR AT JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY IN BALTIMORE, MARYLAND. SHE IS MAJORING IN THE WRITING SEMINARS AND PURSUING A MINOR IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND MANAGEMENT.
Find Out More
Click to read "The Roommate Survival Guide" for more great roommate tips.
Click for more great roommate tips from The College of Idaho Residential Life office.
Click for a great list of tips on roommate relationships from the Missouri U. of Science and Technology.
Are you a good roommate? To take our quiz, CLICK HERE.
When to Get Help With a Roommate
While many roommate relationships can improve with time and a little extra effort, there are some circumstances that warrant more serious action. Nikki Nieset, Ph.D, a psychologist at the Counseling Center at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland, provided some examples:
• Your roommate is verbally abusive. This includes bullying behaviors and making derogatory comments involving race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
• Your roommate is physically threatening or engaging in behavior that threatens the safety of others.
• Your roommate brings a weapon onto campus.
• If you have concerns about roommate’s substance use or mental health status.
• Suicidal gestures or attempts (warrants immediate attention).
• Roommate is controlling of whom you can see, what you can wear, where you can go, etc.
• Major violations of privacy (going through cell phone or emails, opening mail/packages, unauthorized access to private storage places, any attempts to electronically record).
• Theft or other criminal behavior.
• Relationship violence (such as between roommate and his/her romantic partner).
“If students are experiencing some of these issues, there are always campus resources available for help,” assured Dr. Nieset. “Campus police and student life offices are important contacts when there are safety concerns; if mental health problems or substance abuse issues are part of the conflict, consulting with the Counseling Center would be a great option.”
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